Powercreep and you

Aka, I want it all!

Power creep in your roleplay games can be defined as followed:
A situation where your players outgrow the normal pace or set difficulty of the story at hand.

This can be due to players being in the possession of power in the form of :

  • Social or political power: Using status to get their way or get out of trouble.
  • Physical power: Gear, weapons, mighty ships or vehicles or just a way too powerful character sheet.
  • Vast amounts of wealth: Simply throwing money at a problem or buy more power.

Your typical party will consist of people on their way to wealth, power and glory.
This is reflected in your players as well, as for most players this will be their entire reason for playing and for their PC’s to actually start adventuring. In how far this goes is entirely up to your players, the setting and overall discussion with you as the GM. But let’s face the fact that not everyone in your gaming group takes as much enjoyment from a lengthy and interactive story between the PC’s and NPC’s at the local bar. Rather, its more likely they will be straight up murder hobo’s looking to hop on the ‘get rich quick’ train as fast as possible.

This is fine. Hell, you could consider that this is a traditional cornerstone to any RPG, though you would have exceptions depending on what system or setting you are using.

So how can powercreep be a bad thing? And how can we balance it out?
Well, depending on the skill of your GM, powercreep can be a natural flow of the game or a nightmare for your GM for the following reasons:

  • Min-Maxing: One or more players is a dirty Min-Maxer who revels in leaving the rest of the party in their dust. Intentional or not, this can cause serious problems in keeping everyone at the table engaged and entertained on a fitting difficulty.

As I may have mentioned before, I have personally had this happen more than once at my table and, while I managed to eventually deal with this issue, I had to have a serious sit down with my players and make it clear to them that having 1 person one shot everything on sight, forced me to up the difficulty for the other players as well. Which in turn would cause a lot of friction among my players and forced them to partake in min-maxing as well.
In time I spun the encounters around so that I could offer tailored fun for everyone in the group (the same applies to classes or roles in the party that end up being unbalanced by design. See: Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards ). Which helps immensely since logically every PC plays a certain role in the party but it can painfully obvious if not done correctly. In my case, this eventually forced the sit down to happen and for people to change their ways.
Be fortunate to have a group that can deal with this fact and for your min-maxers to get bored with being ‘the best’ and take more enjoyment out of a more natural progression or for trying on a more difficult role to play in the party that is more in line with the other people at the table. If the min-maxer cannot breeze through the game anymore, then the other players don’t need to catch up as much.

Keep in mind that you can have a broken as hell character ‘on paper’ but if you cant play it to its potential, it doesn’t mean much. Which incidentally was what happened to my other players who were not used to min-maxing.

  • Wealth: Simply put, if your players have a vast amount of wealth to fix any problem, then what is keeping your players entertained at the table? If the PC’s have enough money, what is their reason to go out anymore and adventure? If they can live a life of comfort for the rest of their days, it would be game over at that point. And how would you entice your players if they can simply buy it off the market or hire someone else to go get it for them. If you set a high reward for a mission (raise the bar), then why would your players accept anything lower than what was previously offered? (#GamerProblems…)

Money makes the world go round and having a vast amount of it in the real world is kind of awesome. But having no reason to adventure kind of beats the point of playing an adventure game/setting. And quite a few GM’s struggle to balance out rewards for their players and keep the game interesting.

Is having wealth a bad thing? Not always.
In my current Arabian nights game, one of my players ( who is playing the PC Aamir in this game) has formed the initial group of adventurers for a ‘get rich quick’ scheme. Not only do they plan on getting their hands on wealth but they plan to run the entire metropolis (called Saffir) by the end of the game.

Some day, i’ll live in that palace. (Don’t sue me Disney, you have enough money!)

While the other players have invested their wealth in personal items, Aamir went out of his way to purchase and refurbish a night club on the more classy side of the city. This has allowed him to get into contact with both wealthy merchants, officials and nobles of Saffir as well as weekly revenue and special favors that he exchanges between his contacts.
How does this translate? Well, see it as Aamir having sacrificed his money to buy story hooks and plot points that he as a player is allowed to use during the game. The club basically runs itself, it has colorful NPC’s running around and has allowed me (as the GM) to utilize this place for any and all story whims i have (the same is true for the party). Any funds it makes goes into an arbitrary loot pile of their ‘venues’ profits that allows the gang to invest in story means such as transportation (like an air balloon or things that simply benefit the party and push the story forward), to which i can just say ‘ok, done. Aamir arranges for a balloon’ and the player doesn’t need to write it off from his hard earned personal money (as long as their requests are within reason). This has prompted my other players to invest their personal money into similar items and property more linked to their own skills and personalities.
Thus balancing out the wealth issue.

I must note that while my players are getting steadily richer, thus far it has not hindered my story. In fact, getting rich was the entire premise of the game from the get go. While they get nearly double the amount of funds for their levels and find more high value stuff (which they loot/steal and then sell), everything in my game is nearly triple as expensive (They are based in a trade metropolis in the middle of the desert, everything is available but hard to come by). This not only gives the players a sense that they have achieved at least some basis of wealth and feel good about it but it also requires them to take more caution into their expenses and investments.

  • Social and political power: Being in charge is great. You get to make the decisions, boss people about, live a more comfortable life than others and if you have enough people behind you, you can just go full dark side and be a corrupt asshole and even silence anyone who agrees with you. See where I’m going with this?  Same as for wealth, what reason do your players have to carry on adventuring once they have reached a suitable enough of a position to live out their lives in comfort?

Is status bad? Not always. You can easily thrust your players into a seat of command and intrigue them new story plots and tough situations.

And while you cannot simply ‘take away’ your players toys & wealth or have a boulder fall on a min-maxer without any reaction (or retaliation) from your group, you can provide enough intrigue or drama in the story to challenge your PC’s status and approval. Politics is in many regards like a shifting tide where people are always trying to get one over on each other for personal gain.

Star wars. (Again, nothing to see here Disney, move along.)

Just consider the setting and the system you are running and focus on the eventuality that your players will get stronger, wealthier and more known around your world. This will happen, but it does not need to get out of hand enough that you as a GM have lost control of your game.

I hope that this advice has been able to grant some insight for your future games. But feel free to drop a comment down below on your particular issue.

Happy gaming!




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